Texas Is Not as Red a State as It Appears

I don’t mean to suggest that demographics are destiny—the differences between Texas and California illustrate the importance of organization, persuasion, and mobilization.

One of the key distinctions between California and Texas, activists and experts told me, is that while California Governor Pete Wilson’s anti-immigrant initiative, Proposition 187, turned the state’s Latino voters against the Republican Party, until recently, Texas Republicans were considered moderate on immigration—the last U.S. president from Texas sought to pass legislation granting undocumented immigrants legal status, a proposal that would be a nonstarter in Trump’s GOP.

“Texas Republicans didn’t used to be that way. In fact, George W. Bush used to say, ‘I’m not going to be like California’ in reference to the hostile anti-immigration rules,” said Manzano. “It’s so interesting how saying ‘I’m not going to be like California’ has changed in terms of what that meant to a Republican politician in Texas.”

The mobilization against Prop 187 helped build a Latino turnout organization in the Golden State, while in Texas, neither party has made a similar organizational effort.

“There is more investment also in that state from progressives into voter registration and voter turnout that Texas does not yet have,” said Tzintzún Ramírez. “People compare us to California all the time and they say, ‘Oh, anti-immigrant laws were passed, and there was a backlash and the state turned blue,’ but what they don’t talk about is the long-term investment it took to make that happen.” The perception that the Democratic Party is waiting expectantly for Republican nativism to provoke a Latino voter boom, without ever investing in organizing the community, is a source of enduring frustration for the activists who work to increase Latino political participation. “[Beto] O’Rourke is doing as well as he is not because of the progressive infrastructure that has been built, but in spite of it,” said Tzintzún Ramírez.

Republican dominance of Texas, which traces back at least as far as 1994, the last time a Democrat held statewide office, predates the party’s recent push to restrict the franchise. But if the party believed that dominance would continue unchallenged indefinitely, those restrictions wouldn’t have been necessary. Demographics aren’t destiny, but the Republican Party has approached its counter-majoritarian social engineering under the assumption that they are.

“Texas is really emblematic of the rise of the Trump administration,” said Tzintzún Ramírez, “in that people are afraid that our demographics are changing, that people of color will become the majority nationally, and in Texas and California we already are.”

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Adam Jacob

Military veteran and medically trained.

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